Women on a MISSION

Meet Julie Azuma of Different Learning

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself.  I sell educational materials for children diagnosed with autism at www.difflearn.com. We believe in an intervention known as Applied Behavior Analysis and in Verbal Behavior.  These are one to one teaching for children diagnosed with autism. 

ABA has significantly changed the landscape of autism, giving hope for more progress and skills.  Some children, approximately 15% are now able to be mainstreamed from using this intervention between the ages of two and five.  All of our products relate in some way to these two interventions. I worked in the apparel industry for many years as a designer and merchandiser before I decided to start my first business. The work in the apparel field enabled me to understand budgets, profit margins, acquiring product and merchandising. 

2. What do you enjoy most about your profession? I enjoy the knowledge that we’re helping children and families who are dealing with autism on a daily basis.  We can see the progress of these children through the gradual change in the new products that we have been introducing into each new catalog.   Years ago, it was only basic flashcards of nouns and verbs, now we’re selling social skills materials as well as materials on how to create conversations.  We believe that the products we sell are helping parents around the world to educate their children.    

The enjoyment of having your own business is multiple.  Besides the freedom of seeking new products, the creative aspect of merchandising an appropriate line of materials to help children, there is the ability to make a decision with the support of the wonderful associates who work with me.

3. What was your vision for starting your own company?  Twelve years ago, there was no place to find the types of products to educate children diagnosed with autism.  You had to hunt everywhere to find the products to teach children language and basic concepts.  When I began the company, all I wanted was to be of support for other families to save them the ordeal of trying to find the right products for their children.  If I had just broke even, I would have been happy knowing that I was a support to other parents looking for materials.

4. Tell us about the organizations your company supports?  Our company supports Autism Speaks, The Autism Walks, Schools that are previous customers, Organization for Autism Research, Eden II, NYFAC, Elijah Foundation, COSAC and a myriad of autism organizations that have supported us in the past.  I am active with Asian Women in Business to encourage new entrepreneurs, the Coalition of Asian Children and Families and a number of other organizations related to new entrepreneurs and to the Asian American Community.

5. What life event or incident made you choose to support them?  I supported Asian American organization because I believed that we needed a presence and a voice in the mainstream.  I supported Autism groups because I understand the need for all of these organizations, these organization and the children needed a voice and to be heard.  As for Asian Women in Business and Entrepreneurial Groups, I believe that starting your own business is one of the most exciting things that a person can do.

6.  From where do you draw inspiration?  Our inspiration first came from our daughter, Miranda who was seen by many psychiatrists, psychologists, speech pathologists and neurologists but wasn’t diagnosed with autism until age 6 and is now considered classically autistic.  I was desperate to find the right materials to educate her and to help her make progress.The other inspiration comes from the families who face autism everyday.  In the early years, these parents gave me insights into products that they believed would help children. The parents on my listserv were incredible support and gave creative ideas for products. 

7. What one thing would you like to learn this year?  I would like to find figure out how to reach out to more parents through marketing in a new creative way.  Traditional marketing does not work for this particular population, we need to find a way to seek out parents who may be looking for us at this very moment.

8. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?  In five years, we hope to have a large growth to our three companies: Aside from Different Roads to Learning, we also have DRL Books, a publishing company that sells books related to autism and we have just started a new branding of our company, The Mind and Memory Store that is dedicated to mental fitness, mental acuity and short term memory retention.  We hope to grow Different Roads to Learning to at least a five million dollar company, we’re looking forward to more new books to add to DRL Books and our hope is that the Mind and Memory Store will exceed the goals of both companies because it is mainstream, aimed at anyone over 40 who is looking for support to keep mentally active.

9. What do you do for fun, relaxation?  I go to movies, see friends, make new friends and socialize through organizations that work with my two favorite communities, autism and Asian Americans.

10. Do you have a secret indulgence?  If so, what is it? It’s Free Cell, Nintendo DS and tons of Mystery novels. 

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?  If you’re thinking of starting a business, do it.  It’s so important to follow your own passion and to gain your independence.  Personally, I believe in niche businesses, looking for the hole that needs to be filled.  You should do research and look at who your competitors might be so that you’re ready with the right merchandise with the right price points. 

Visit Julie on the WEB at: www.difflearn.com and www.mindandmemorystore.com

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